According to public reports, well over 200 million ransomware attacks happened in the first half of 2022 alone, and these attacks ultimately accounted for a fifth of all cybercrimes committed in that entire year. Ransomware continues to present a serious risk to organizations across the world, and it’s more important than ever to understand its insidious distribution methods and its notoriously catastrophic outcomes.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a form of cyber-attack which seeks to encrypt a company’s most valuable data and demand payment in return for the decryption key, typically within a timeframe specified by the attacker. This aptly named attack is explicitly carried out for financial gain, standing in contrast to other common attack vectors – such as Distributed Denial of Service attacks – which generally seek to damage the reputation of a company and disrupt its operations.
While decryption without the attacker-supplied key is sometimes possible, it’s usually extremely difficult to recover compromised data in a sophisticated ransomware attack. There’s also no guarantee that the attacker will supply the encryption key once payment is received, so it’s extremely important to proactively defend against ransomware.
How is Ransomware Spread, and How does it Work?
Phishing is by far the most common method for spreading ransomware. Ransomware is generally disguised within everyday content like email file attachments and compromised website links, so spam emails with targeted social engineering attempts are often the most successful methods of distribution. It’s also common to find ransomware links posted or directly messaged to users on popular social media platforms, and instances of distribution via Malvertising (advertising sites compromised with malicious code) have been reported.
Once a victim activates a ransomware file or link, the ransomware is downloaded onto their device and automatically installed. The attacker’s goal is to encrypt valuable data either stored locally on the device or within a larger network of connected applications, and their ransomware is typically configured to find original AND backup files to improve the attacker’s chances of eventually receiving a ransom payment. When files are successfully encrypted, they become inaccessible to the victim, and the victim typically receives clear instructions detailing the ransom payment process. The victim can usually access a link to make a payment to the attacker, but there’s no guarantee whatsoever that the attacker will honor their end of the bargain.
How are Ransomware Attacks Prevented?
First and foremost, out-of-date systems are the most vulnerable to any form of malware attack, so preventing ransomware starts with rigorous patch management and system updates. Robust data backup practices with redundant security policies are also vital to ensuring successful ransomware encryptions don’t hold your business hostage. On top of this, users in any organization should receive extensive training to avoid phishing links and other common forms of ransomware distribution.
It's also vital to implement dynamic virus and malware detection policies. The Cloudmersive Advanced Virus Scan API provides a powerful solution, offering 360-degree content protection against more than 17 million virus and malware signatures and hidden content threats like executables (Windows-based executables account for more than 90% of ransomware attacks), invalid files, scripts, macros, and more. The Website Scan iteration of the Virus Scan API also provides extensive protection against phishing links, virus-infected websites, and a variety of other URL-based threats.
For more information about Cloudmersive Virus Scan APIs, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our sales team.